By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters halted the steamrolling Northport Batang Pier, 97-87, in Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup action on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
One of the teams in need of a win to boost their push in the midseason PBA tournament, the Fuel Masters (3-4) performed accordingly and netted a “big fish” in the Batang Pier (7-2), currently among the leaders in the race and were shooting for their fifth victory in a row entering the game.
Phoenix overcame a shaky start to the match and kept it steady when it got its collective groove to get the better of Northport on the way to the win.
The contest got off to a competitive start with the team looking to establish early control.
They fought to a 12-all count in the first six minutes of the opening quarter.
Northport then exploded with an 8-0 run in the next minute and a half, led by newly acquired Kevin Ferrer, to build a 20-12 advantage.
It was a leverage Northport would use to go on top, 28-19, after the first canto.
Phoenix, towed by Jason Perkins and RJ Jazul, came out the second period firing, opening with an 8-0 blast to come within a point, 28-27, after just two minutes.
The Fuel Masters seized the lead, 34-32, after a triple from Mr. Jazul at the 6:48 mark.
They maintained control the rest of the way to hold sway, 43-39, at the half.
Robert Bolick jolted Northport to a strong start to begin the third frame, pulling his team ahead, 46-43, at the 9:27 mark.
But the Fuel Masters recovered their bearing, answering with an 11-5 run after to create some separation, 54-48, midway.
The Batang Pier tried to claw their way back but the Fuel Masters kept them at bay to continue to lead, 64-61, heading into the final 12 minutes of the match.
The fourth quarter began with the teams angling for the late push.
Phoenix then made a run as import Richard Howell found his mark, helping his team to a 12-point advantage, 76-64, with 7:55 remaining.
Northport, however, was not to go down without a fight.
Messrs. Ferrer and Bolick and Sean Anthony kept the Batang Pier within striking distance, down only by four points, 88-84, with a minute and a half left on the clock.
They would not inch any closer than that though with the Fuel Masters putting their foot down for the remaining time and went to wrap things up.
Matthew Wright led Phoenix with 28 points to go along with six assists and two blocks.
Mr. Howell had 18 points and 15 rebounds while Mr. Jazul finished with 17 markers.
For Northport it was Mo Tautuaa who top-scored with 19 points with Messrs. Ferrer and Anthony adding, 18 and 16 points, respectively.
Phoenix next plays on Friday, June 28, against the defending champions Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings (4-3) while Northport returns to action on July 3 versus Columbian Dyip (1-6).